Meet Ash Dykes!
Ash is a British adventurer and extreme athlete. In 2014, he became the first person to walk across Mongolia solo and unsupported. Then in 2016 he became the first person to traverse the length of Madagascar, taking on eight mountains and intense jungle over 155 days. He won the UK Adventurer of the Year Award in 2015 and the Welsh Adventurer of the Year award in 2016.
Here, Ash talks about his curiosity about the world and how he mentally prepared for his adventures.
What was the impetus behind becoming an adventurer?
From a young age, I was always curious about the world, travel and adventure. I’d hear stories and this would fuel me to want to create my own stories – I just felt that it may not be possible as the normal route is continuing your education through university.
It was when I was in College (age 17), studying an outdoor education course that I started focusing more on making something happen. The rest of the students were looking into university, the military etc, while I looked into what job I could get that would provide me with the best opportunity to save money and then leave around a year and a half later.
I found work as a lifeguard, sold my car, bought a bicycle and cycled to work every day (16 miles), working 240 hours per month. I was saving a lot of money at this point, while planning my travel and gaining my scuba diving qualification, hoping to work abroad while travelling.
At age 19, I had made it, I set off to China with a friend. It was just incredible but, after a month, I found I was very much on the beaten track and decided to mix things up. Wanting to take on an adventure, coupled with our shoe-string budget, we decided to purchase the cheapest bicycles we could find and cycle Cambodia and the length of Vietnam. Quite a reckless cycle – no gears, no suspension, helmet, pump or puncture repair kit and only two minutes on Google planning the route. We were hit by mopeds, dodged by lorries, chased by dogs, cycled 39 hours straight during one stint, but after 1,130 miles and the bikes breaking 17 times between us – we made it. This was the catalyst to all the adventures to come. I was hooked and didn’t want to stop… So I didn’t!
“As human beings we thrive through new experiences – it’s this that moulds us, creates us. So get out there and live this life you’ve got to the full potential. It’s never too soon and it’s certainly never too late”
Before setting out on your adventures in Mongolia and Madagascar what were your doubts/fears/concerns and how did you overcome these?
Before Mongolia, I had many worries. In the years previous, I had pushed myself a lot, learnt from mistakes and seen to a certain extent what I was capable of at such a young age, yet I had never tested myself to the extent I would in Mongolia – and this time I’d be alone!
I feared the wolves and how I’d react if I strolled upon a pack; I worried about the sandstorms as I’d have no protection and nowhere to hide; the snow blizzards; the water sources and how to act if I developed heat exhaustion. But also by being alone, I was unsure how long I’d last. I’d have no one there to make a crucial decision with, no one to talk to and laugh with. Going solo changes everything.
There were many unanswered questions but the only way to answer them was to go for it – there was no other option around it. I knew that being afraid was all part of the challenge and that I’d have to face my fears head on. I’d expect the worst in my mind: I would tell myself that if there are wolves, expect to be attacked; if there is a snow blizzard, expect it to be the biggest. I of course didn’t want that, but if the worst-case scenario was in my mind then at least I’d be somewhat mentally prepared for it and hopefully would be able to manage it.
What is the main thing you have learnt (about life or yourself) from these experiences?
That it’s a big, beautiful world and there is still lots to explore. As human beings we thrive through new experiences – it’s this that moulds us, creates us. So get out there and live this life you’ve got to the full potential. It’s never too soon and it’s certainly never too late.
What would be your dream adventure and why – and why haven’t you done it yet?
Currently planning it.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Whatever you do in life, if you do it with enthusiasm, you’ll go far!
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you have with you and why?
A machete (this is useful for almost everything and would help me construct a shelter), water filter bottle and a solar powered satellite phone (if there is one – and if not, why not!?)